If you’re looking for marine-grade plywood, Okoume Plywood is worth your consideration. However, mysteries surrounding Okoume Plywood remain quandaries for many; those issues include the wood’s eerie elements, odd origin, and curious components.
Okoume, which is pronounced OH-KOO-MEE and can also be written as “Okume,” is more formally referred to as “Gaboon,” and scientifically named Aucoumea klaineana. It has also been called “Gaboon Mahogany” or “African Mahogany,” even though it is not actually related to the mahoganies, at all. However, it does originate in Africa, in Congo and Gabon, to be precise. In those West African provinces, the trees are known to reach upwards of 200 feet.
On its own, Okoume wood is prized both for being lightweight and for having an above average strength-to-weight ratio. However, it lacks strength, as well as great potential as far as bending and stiffness.
The wood was first compiled into marine-grade plywood by a Dutch businessman named Cornelius Bruynzeel in the 1930s. Both a lumber dealer and a sailing enthusiast, Bruynzeel was the manager of a successful family-owned door factory. As the company began to expand its scope, the second World War threatened to eclipse the company’s success. As he attempted to find new outlets for the company’s materials, Bruynzeel began experimenting with a water-resistant synthetic resin glue that had recently been developed. He successfully used it to construct a three-ply laminated panel durable enough for exterior doors. Then, his livelihood collided with his hobby: In a conversation with a fellow sailor (who was also a naval architect), he suggested his new invention for use in building sailing vessels.
While Douglas Fir and Mahogany woods are often used to comprise marine-grade plywood, Okoume Plywood is truly in a class of its own. While the core veneers and faces are the same, many high-quality 1.5 mm plies are compiled in order to reach the necessary thickness. Instead of the voids and plugs that are part of most plywood layers, all the core plies of Okoume Plywood meet the same standards of quality as the face plies. Because of its use in watercrafts and aircrafts, balance and symmetry are significant, as well.
Because of its light weight, strength-to-weight ratio, and unusually durable and high-quality construction, this wood product has proven to be ideal for specialty mobile outdoor applications. In the U.S., Okoume Plywood is generally reserved for use in constructing wood aircraft and racing boats. In other countries, though, it is also used in hydroplanes, canoes, and other sea-worthy vessels.
Some boats built from Okoume Plywood have been found still floating after 40 years, demonstrating the durability of this ingenious product.